I’m writing this from Washington DC. But no, I’m not here to catch a glimpse of Obama, the first family or any post-inauguration jollities. In fact it’s hard to picture what it must have been like 10 days ago, as the city centre seems oddly quiet. I’ve been walking past the US Capitol a lot since Thursday night, and there’s hardly a car, let alone a pedestrian in sight. It must be the emptiest capitol in the world.
I’ve actually come for a conference on Pompeii, that’s being held in the National Gallery of Art and its research institute CASVA, to coincide with an exhibition on Roman art and life around the bay of Naples. (The garden scene at the top of this post from the House of the Golden Bracelet is one of the prize exhibits.) I’ve earned my passage because I wrote an essay in the catalogue and did some of the audio-guide for the show. Before I leave I’m going to go and enjoy (?) the ultimate solipsistic pleasure and listen to myself taking me round the exhibition.
The conference has been hugely useful for me. My paper was on the changing patterns of nineteenth-century tourism to Pompeii, very much from the UK angle – and there were a number of people here who could help me with the Naples end of this (about which I don’t know enough).
But the extra pleasure was the fact that the whole thing was actually held in the National Gallery itself.
I’m a real sucker for conferences in museums anyway (there’s always something interesting to look at when you’re on the way to the loo). But I hadn’t been to Washington’s National Gallery for 25 years and I had forgotten how brilliant it was.